Reverse engineering a decision and roadmap baseline

Nearly all of my consulting engagements start with the same task – reverse engineering a strategic baseline for the client’s business or project from whatever source documents they can provide.  The initial output of this effort is an explicitly defined (visible, actionable) decision and roadmap baseline and a set of very pointed questions aimed at gaps, white space and inconsistencies in the source documents.

A proven and comprehensive decision pattern is foundation for strategic reverse engineering.  I know in advance that anything meaningful concerning the future of the business, product or project can be framed as a decision.  All the data in the document that is relevant to the future (alternatives, estimates, risks, implementation plans, etc.) fit somewhere in the context of a Decision Breakdown Structure (DBS).  The type of source documents doesn’t really matter; they can be:

  • A complete or in-progress business plan or business case
  • PowerPoint presentations with lots of bullets, graphics and charts
  • Technical papers or engineering white papers
  • Requirements specifications or RFPs
  • Project plans
  • Balanced scorecards that define some strategic initiatives
  • Spreadsheets
  • Meeting notes

Reverse engineering is a lot like playing the game, Jeopardy®.  The documents most often describe various alternatives (answers).  I then ask, “if X is the answer, what was the question (decision)?” and proceed to locate the question (decision) within the strategy decision pattern.  Other types of data (risks, performance estimates, requirements/criteria, implementation tasks, analysis tasks) can be similarly placed “in context” within the decision model.  I’ve done this more than 100 times across a very rich variety of high-tech industries and technology and product areas and I have yet to find an exception.  Every meaningful paragraph in a document, bullet on a slide or box on a diagram fits somewhere in context of a decision; everything else is just boilerplate, fluff or ancient and irrelevant history.

Strategic reverse engineering is a very rapid process if you have a proven decision pattern and a toolset such as the Decision Driven® Solutions Framework web application that supports the decision-centric information model.   I typically quote this as a 2-3 day effort, including a Decision Blitz session (typically an e-meeting or 2) to confirm the reverse engineering with the client, fill in the obvious gaps (from their heads) and prioritize a top-10 list of open decisions for further mentoring and analysis.  I generally populate ~50 decisions within this period and identify lots of decisions that are missing or for which the answers are fuzzy, unsupported or inconsistent.

Once you have an explicit decision and roadmap baseline, you have a set of visible control knobs that you can use to create/accelerate your future.  If this sounds intriguing, we encourage you to start a trial of the Decision Driven® Solutions Framework (DDSF) today. Please contact the Decision Driven® Solutions team at or

About decisiondriven

Innovator in Decision Management, Systems Thinking and System Engineering methods and tools
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